Turned Off, Tuned In

Editorial Notebook

April 25, 2009|By Peter Jensen

Everyone knows 21st-century children are weak-willed, mush-brained slugs addicted to television and video games and no more capable of unhooking themselves from their electronic stimuli than a tick swearing off mammals. So when National Turn-Off-Tune-In Week began on Monday, two youngsters of my acquaintance - ages 10 and 13 - decided to meet the challenge.

As I noted on the Second Opinion blog this week:

Why is the family room barricaded? The youngest - no doubt sensing his own frailty in this arena - blocked the door leading to the big-screen TV. He taped "do not watch" notes over every video display in the house and picked up a challenging chapter book from the library in preparation.

It's not clear what his sister might have done to gird herself for the challenge as she's a teenager and thus rarely seen by her parents. We know she's around however by the messes she leaves behind. It's a bit like tracking animals: "Look," my wife will observe, "these crumpled up jeans in the middle of the floor are still warm so she must be near. Let us take cover."

Sensing an opportunity to strike a blow against childhood obesity, the loss of youthful imagination and attention span, and all the other ills associated with video addiction, I decided to observe their behavior (as ugly as it was bound to get) and chronicle it in a diary. Below are excerpts:

Day 1: Surprisingly, children seem content with alternative activities. However, their mother cannot bear the thought of an evening without Jack Bauer and 24. Rips off son's note blocking TV screen like feral animal. Eats dinner on couch. Talks back at President Jon Voight. Can hear her from down the hall. Wonder how the Orioles are doing?

Day 2: Children are contentedly doing their homework and reading. Strangely, even Facebook seems not to be a draw. I accidentally forget about restrictions and watch evening news. Son politely reminds me of the no-TV pledge. What insolence. Accidentally play bridge on laptop then accidentally check out Bill O'Reilly and Rachel Maddow (fun to switch back and forth for whiplash effect).

Day 3: Wife is glued to American Idol. Words cannot express my disappointment in her. TV holds no appeal for me. Smuggled iPod Touch into bed to watch YouTube clips. Susan Boyle, will you marry me? The children are off somewhere reading. Bookworms.

Day 4: Starting to feel like one of the Survivor contestants in the Tocantins but don't know which one BECAUSE I'M NOT ALLOWED TO WATCH. Wife appears to be drooling in the corner and mumbling something about CSI or maybe it's Law and Order. Children? Why do you ask? What am I, their remote control?

Day 5: Crisis averted. Things are much better now. Quietly explained to children that turn-off week parameters don't really apply to parents. This is, after all, about improving life for the kids. They seem skeptical but can't quite hear their objections over Iron Man: Armored Adventures on Nicktoons. We're careful to make sure the boy doesn't linger and watch the show.

Conclusion: Week has been a positive experience, but children say they want to go back to watching TV. Both claim television, video games and computers are "awesome." Just as we suspected, no self-discipline. Once again, our best efforts to steer them toward better behavior are wasted. Will have to see what Dr. Phil says about this.

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